Guns, ammo flying off Memphis area store shelves

By Updated: March 20, 2020 3:58 PM CT | Published: March 20, 2020 3:31 PM CT

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

Toilet paper isn’t the only thing flying off the shelves in the Mid-South lately. According to area gun store owners, personal-defense handguns and ammunition are in equally high demand as concerns about COVID-19 rise.


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“We’re seeing unprecedented sales of ammunition and firearms that we haven’t seen since we opened,” said Ben Ferguson, co-owner of TopGun Memphis, a full-service gun store, range and training facility. “It’s almost 100% home- and family-protection buyers.

“If this pandemic hits as hard as they think it’s going to hit, they’re afraid food will dry up in the supermarkets and people will be hungry and turn to crime. When crime gets out of hand, they’re afraid the government will declare martial law.” 

— Jim Hill, Classic Arms owner

“Their concern is that the government will implement quarantines, they could be stuck at home and there will be people who will unfortunately commit crimes.”

Ferguson said his business sold out of ammunition, especially 9mm bullets, at around 5 p.m. Monday. He’ll continue to restock for as long as his distributors can supply it. He’ll also stay open for as long as he can.

“We’re still open for business and we’re going to do what we can to make sure people have what they need to feel like they can protect themselves,” he said.

The spike in gun sales is a statewide trend. According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, from Feb. 13-17 there were 7,901 gun transactions in Tennessee. From March 12-16, that number rose to 14,657.

 

“We want to make sure you know how to load the gun, unload the gun, how the gun works and how to shoot that gun in a responsible way, and that’s what we do with the people who come into our store,” Ferguson said. “Our goal is to educate people on the right firearm for them. Just because your neighbor recommended it or a friend recommended it doesn’t mean it’s the right gun for you.”

This week, TopGun Memphis placed buying limits on guns and ammo to prevent panic buying. The store remained open for business as of Friday afternoon.

At Accent Guns and Loans in Memphis, partner Mike Gambale said customers were already lined up in the parking lot when he arrived at 9:30 a.m. Monday to open the doors.

Fueled by weekend headlines about COVID-19, they were a mix of regular customers and first-time buyers, mostly there to buy ammunition and home-defense shotguns. He sold out of those shotguns by the end of the day.

Gambale said a big concern is educating new buyers. Particularly for families with children, it’s important to have a gun with a safety catch. He won’t sell guns to first-time buyers without first understanding their needs.

“Some people came in and said, ‘I want this gun because someone told me that it’s good.’ One woman wanted a double-barreled shotgun and she had a child with her,” Gambale said. “And I said to her, ‘This is not for you. This will knock you on your butt.’”

In Collierville, sales associate Sarah Whalen at Top Brass Sports said her store was also almost cleared out early this week, particularly in ammunition. Like many Mid-South gun stores, Top Brass associates encourage first-time gun buyers to make the extra investment in education.

“We offer one-on-one classes of two hours with just you and a private instructor,” Whalen said. “They can give you more attention and go over more things than you get in handgun permit classes.”

During an interview Tuesday, Jay Hill, owner of Classic Arms of Memphis, admitted that he was exhausted. Even after his store closed at 6 p.m., he still had potential buyers knocking. He let them in.

“Gun sales here have more than quadrupled. We’re selling 50 guns a day. Ammo sales are probably tenfold,” he said. “We just can’t get enough ammo in and I’m getting it shipped in daily. We’re going through 12,000 rounds of 9mm a day.”

Hill said his customers represent all demographics and, like with other stores in the area, many of them this week were first-time buyers. Their reasons for buying guns and ammunition were basically the same.

“It’s the fear of civil unrest,” he said. “If this pandemic hits as hard as they think it’s going to hit, they’re afraid food will dry up in the supermarkets and people will be hungry and turn to crime. When crime gets out of hand, they’re afraid the government will declare martial law.”

The Memphis Police Department declined to comment for this story.

Hill said many customers coming in had been on the fence.

“Now they’re getting knocked off the fence and saying, ‘OK, I’ve got to get a gun now.’”

For people who might still be considering buying handguns, Hill — like other gun store owners — urges them not to panic-buy.

“Be educated. Be sensible. Don’t buy something cheap,” he said. “Buy something very reliable because your life could be at stake.”

COVID-19 in Memphis & Shelby County: March

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Gun sales Ammunition COVID-19 coronavirus

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